I don’t throw the word “masterpiece” around lightly when it comes to anime (or anything else for that matter) but Gangsta is rather forcing my hand. I’m framing this is the context of two other series that meet the threshold for me – Death Parade and Sarai-ya Goyou. Gangsta is really the first show that’s made me seriously question whether Death Parade is a lock for the top spot in the year-end list, and to make me wonder whether House of Five Leaves could ever be equalled as Manglobe’s signature achievement. It really is that good.
As I mentioned last week though, it’s really time to start worrying. The crucial question is, how will Manglobe finesse the ending of an ongoing manga, especially given only one cour to work with? I don’t know the answer, obviously, so all I can do is take it one episode at a time. And that means appreciating what a marvel of storytelling this series is, especially in terms of exposition – through seven episodes, it’s a serious rival to both Death Parade and Sarai-ya Goyou. And the fact that the highly experienced and capable anime staff has already made some brilliant narrative changes (weaving the scenes of Worick and Nic in as flashbacks, mainly) gives me hope that they have both a notion of how to give this story some closure and the chops to pull it off.
There are so many remarkable things about Gangsta that it’s hard to know where to start singing its praises. But I think the writing itself does a better job than anyone else could in distilling this story’s brilliance down to its essence. “Why?” is the theme of this episode, and as cliche as it is to point it out, that’s a question of extraordinary power. But that it’s the central one of Worick’s life could hardly be more fitting. As a child, it puzzles and dismays him that Nic never seems to ask “Why?” about the shit circumstances life has dumped on him (and by extension, on Worick himself). But as an adult, he knows the awful truth – “If I were to answer it’d be all over, right?”
This is the cruel beauty at the heart of Gangsta for me. The one question you can never ask about the injustice of existence is “Why?” – because there’s no answer. Life can be pleasant or unpleasant, individuals lucky or unlucky – but fairness simply doesn’t enter into it. How can people like Worick, living in this soul-crushing hell-hole, continue to display a measure of their humanity if they try and look for an ounce of justice or fairness? They can’t – and the unlikely survival of human kindness in this environment is the essence of what Gangsta is all about.
With each new revelation the characters in this series and their relationships become more fascinating. There’s a lovely juxtaposition between the adult Nic flying through the air with Nina in his arms, squealing with delight, and the child Nic seeing and doing things no adult should ever have to see or do. And then we have Doug, who despite his appearance is revealed to be 21 years old – his physical growth apparently his “compensation” for his twilight powers (and Nic’s hearing his). This concept of compensation is newly introduced, yet it makes perfect sense in the context of what we’ve already seen – which is exactly the sort of deft exposition Gangsta rattles off with seeming ease.
Nic and Worick’s childhood just gets more terrible the more we see of it. Nic’s father abandons him, treats his as a monster. And Worick’s continues to abuse him, to the point where it reaches actual mutilation – as punishment for smoking, he burns Worick’s eye with a lit cigarette. Each boy reaches their breaking point and it reflects in its own way: Worick seemingly “buys” Nic, with the intent of keeping him alive by supplying him with Celebrer even after his father is willing to let him die. And seeing Worick’s horrible disfigurement at his father’s hand is what finally sets Nic around the bend, and he snaps, killing the horrible bastard and seemingly the rest of Worick’s family besides. Nic does this with the intent of taking his own life afterwards, but Worick stops him – for reasons that defy easy categorization.
Seriously – like everything in this series, things between Nic and Worick are fucking complicated. Nic slaughtered Worick’s family – but that family was horrible to Worick. The two men seem to be eternal comrades, yet Worick effectively owns Nic. I don’t think Worick is being completely flippant when he tells “Delly-chan” that he “hates all tags” and that he’d be happier if the vigilantes currently taking out high-level tags did so to Nic. There seems to be a genuine brotherly love between Worick and Nic, but it’s a dark kind of love, in the way that brothers often are, and other ways besides.
Talking of those vigilantes, we finally see them – Mikhail (Tanezaki Atsumi) and Erica (Shimamura Yuu). They appear to be children (Mikhail especially) but Gangsta has taught us that in this story appearances aren’t to be trusted. And neither is Uranos Corsica, who’s attending a meeting of the local Dons with Daniel Monroe, Gina and the head of the Cristiano family, Loretta (Ueda Kana) who also appears to be a child. I don’t deny that Uranos’ professed hatred of twilights is genuine, but methinks he doth protest too much when it comes to the accusation that he’s employing them to execute the current slaughter of dogtags – it seems self-apparent that only another twilight could do this, and that Corsica is the one who’s motivated to see it happen.
Finally, we have Alex, whose role in the story is a fascinating one. She sees hallucinations, yet she’s also keenly observant of reality (she spots the cuts on Dr. Theo’s hand, and realizes what – and who – caused them). She and Worick share an understanding through common experience that casts their early interactions in a new light, yet she also seems to feel a special bond with Nic. Is there room for romance in a story this overflowing with nuance and a setting this pitiless? And where does Ally’s heart run to if there is? It’s yet another thread woven into this remarkably compelling tapestry.